Constructive journalism addresses lack of sex education in conservative Indonesian society

Comprehensive sex education is said to be the solution for a number of adolescent sexuality problems. What do teenagers have to say about this?

Together with the Danish Constructive Institute, IMS piloted the introduction of Constructive Journalism – solution-driven journalism – with the gender-focused media outlet Magdalene in Indonesia through their campaign to bring about awareness of and solutions to the lack of sex education in Indonesia. Magdalene have also now been equipped to train other media interested in this form of journalism.

Combining the constructive journalism approach with data journalism – the traditional ability to tell a compelling story using the sheer scale and range of digital information now available – Magdalene created a journalistic series on sex education – a highly sensitive issue in a very conservative country. This focused on alternatives and solutions to the fact that currently elements of sex education taught in high schools mostly focus on reproductive health as part of biology class while issues related to sexual behaviour linked to the spread of HIV are only taught in physical education and health education classes. This is due to the stigma attached to real sex education.

Using multiple platforms and tools to gather data and engage audiences, the Magdalene team of women editors first conducted an online survey of adolescents between 15-19 years old across Indonesia on social media to find out about their knowledge of sexuality and what they were curious about. To get a feel of what questions on sexuality were on the minds of their readers, they asked about topics related to sexual relationships, sex and religion and sex education and asked the teenagers what questions they would want answers to. This was coupled with roundtable talks with parents, teachers, religious figures and medical experts as well as a teenagers.

“We thought it was important to find out for ourselves how much do adults actually know about sexual health and sexual issues, matching it also with where they learn it from or whether they have had any sex education before,” lead editor of Magdalene, Devi Asmarani, explains.  

According to Magdalene’s findings, 97.53 percent of the more than 500 people who answered the survey agreed that sex education was important, although they had yet to be sexually active. In addition, sex education was viewed as being important for building healthy relationships with partners (96.79 percent). They also agreed that sex education could prevent sexual violence (96.54 percent), unwanted pregnancies (97.04 percent), and sexually transmitted diseases (98.02 percent). The survey also showed that teens turned to porn for information about sex in the absence of proper sex education at school.

A high school student in Makassar explained it this way in a comment: “We don’t get sex education at school, just the stuff about the reproductive system in biology class, starting from the reproductive system, fertilisation, menstruation, sexually transmitted diseases, and so on. Teenagers need to learn about the sexuality part, in addition to the reproductive part.”

Sex education an antidote to sexual violence

Another important finding from the survey is that one in 10 respondents who had been in a romantic relationship said they had been victims of violence. Of the 42 who experienced violence, six were men. The forms of violence they experienced include verbal, psychological, sexual, extortion, online violence and a combination of two or more. Of all the respondents who experienced such violence, only 63.21 percent said they had received sex education. This supports the data from the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) that out of nearly 300 thousand cases of violence against women in 2020, dating violence ranks second, accounting for 20 percent in the category of violence in the private sphere.

Magdalene also created a quiz on myths on sexuality and a series of myth-busting videos and shared them through their social media channels to get answers to the questions. Since the launch in December 2021, almost 6,000 people had participated in the quiz. To build the constructive journalism component into the project, and to qualitatively unpack the findings of the online survey as well, they conducted a roundtable talk that included parents, teachers, religious figures and medical experts as well as a teenagers. This discussion was recorded and produced as two episodes of podcast, as well as published on YouTube. In addition, Magdalene also created a variety of social media content to engage audiences and drive conversations on the issue.

The audience response to Magdalene’s multimedia series on sex education that addressed solutions and alternatives to school-driven sex education clearly showed that Magdalene had hit a note with its audience. They had addressed an issue which especially influences the lives of young people and women in Indonesia, but about which there exists very little accessible public or educational information.

Launched in December 2021, the total audience reach over the next couple of months was about 1,300,000 page views and nearly 500,000 visitors. Their microsite Sex Education and articles have garnered over 16,000 visits since the launch in mid-December, and the quiz was responded to by nearly 6,000 people. In total both the sex education and young marriage journalism projects have over 61,000 visits and about 150,000 in social media reach. There were over 500 downloads of the brand new podcast, which is unusually high for a new podcast. This level of engagement in such a sensitive issue is unique and the team plans to continue to repackage content and monitor conversations revolving around them. Partially as a result of the campaign, website views rose from 4.3 million views in 2020 to 6,599,800 million views including more than 99,800 visitors on Instagram in 2021.

“Had we not learned about Constructive Journalism, we would probably have conducted the project without such a holistic approach. Constructive Journalism reminded us to take a bird’s eye view on a journalistic project beyond the content, and to take into consideration how to create a bigger impact by offering solutions, exploring nuances, listening to our audience while facilitating dialogues among all the stakeholders,” says editor Devi Asmarani.

The Magdalene team are now also equipped to train other interested media outlets in Indonesia in constructive journalism and will be presenting the findings to the world’s media at the prestigious International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, on 7 April.

Passages. figures and quotes courtesy of Magdalene media.